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Five Wisconsin legislators seek delay in Watco's WSOR acquisition

On Dec. 29, five Wisconsin representatives filed a motion with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) seeking a 60-day extension to the effective date of Watco Cos. L.L.C.’s control of the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co. (WSOR).

In November, Watco reached an agreement with WSOR to acquire controlling ownership of the 600-mile regional. Watco filed a change of control notice with the STB and expected to complete the transaction by 2011’s end.

Wisconsin Reps. Brett Hulsey, Louis Molepske, Kelda Helen Roys, Fred Clark and Terese Berceau are seeking a 60-day delay in the transaction (from Dec. 29) so state legislators and the public have more time to explore several issues. According to a joint press release issued by the legislators, the extra time could be used to determine whether:
• the sale would hurt local farmers, manufacturers and rail shippers;
• Watco executives are willing to work with state and local officials to improve freight-rail and restore passenger-rail service to many parts of Wisconsin;
• the state could help broker a better deal with a more open bidding process since taxpayers "have invested" more than $60 million in WSOR’s tracks; and
• the sale is a political payback for illegal campaign contributions WSOR officials have provided Gov. Scott Walker.

After CN acquired the Wisconsin Central Railroad Ltd. in 2001, central Wisconsin paper mills and northern Wisconsin forest product companies had less access to rail service, so “the public must fully understand how business practices and reliable access will change” in WSOR’s corridors due to the acquisition, said Molepske in the joint statement.

“This sale should be further reviewed to allow the public more time to understand how businesses that use this railroad will be affected by its sale, especially since the public has invested so many tax dollars by upgrading the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad infrastructure,” said Molepske.

Adds Berceau: “We need more freight train capacity to get products to market and get trucks off the road, and I want to make sure this sale will do that.”

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/2/2012